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First Thoughts: The writing is on the wall

After last night’s sweep, the writing’s on the wall: Romney, unless the extraordinary occurs, is going to be the GOP nominee… And Santorum isn’t going to win… Updated delegate count: Romney 573, Santorum 212, Gingrich 137, Paul 34… Santorum’s no-win situation heading into Pennsylvania… Obama’s speech yesterday achieved one thing: It drove the conservative intelligentsia crowd nuts… Romney, at 11:45 am ET, gets chance to respond to Obama at the very same venue… And Scott Brown embraces Obama.

Jason Cohn / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum addresses supporters at his Wisconsin and Maryland primary night rally in Mars, Pennsylvania, April 3, 2012.

*** The writing is on the wall: Last night’s GOP primary contests didn’t contain any new revelations: Mitt Romney won a contested state in Wisconsin, but it wasn’t pretty (the margin was just five points, 43%-38%, despite his endorsements and clear financial edge); he racked up a HUGE proportion of the delegates (so far picking up 83 to Rick Santorum’s nine -- that’s right, Santorum couldn’t even win 10% of avail delegates last night); and the demographics told the big story (about 40% in Wisconsin were evangelicals, below the 50% of higher mark in contests that Santorum has won). Given that we didn’t learn anything new in Wisconsin -- or in Maryland or DC -- the writing is on the wall: Romney, unless the extraordinary occurs, is going to be the Republican presidential nominee. And Santorum, unless there’s a miracle, cannot win. Here’s NBC’s delegate count: Romney 573, Santorum 212, Gingrich 137, Paul 34.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd recaps Tuesday's primaries and Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

*** Santorum’s no-win situation: So the question is no longer IF Romney is going to be the nominee; rather, it’s WHEN Santorum will bow out. And in his speech last week, the former Pennsylvania senator made it clear that he’s still in this race. “Pennsylvania and half the other people in this country have yet to be heard,” he said in his concession speech last night, per NBC’s Morgan Parmet. “And we're going to go out and campaign here and across this nation to make sure that their voices are heard in the next few months.” Even Romney, in his victory address, acknowledged that the GOP race was moving to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York (on April 24). Here’s the thing: Had Romney won Wisconsin by 10 points -- instead of five -- Santorum right now might be more open to exiting the race. Nevertheless, in the next 72 hours, he will hear plenty of voices telling him to get out. After all, demographically, Pennsylvania is a state that Santorum should lose if it weren’t his home state: It’s a combination of Illinois (Philly suburbs = Chicago ‘burbs) and Ohio. And even if he does win it, pundits will dismiss the victory because he won his home state. It’s a no-win situation.

*** He drives me crazy … and I can’t help myself: President Obama’s speech assailing the Ryan budget plan achieved one thing for certain yesterday: It drove the conservative intelligentsia crowd nuts. Townhall.com wrote: "Today we witnessed something truly remarkable. Barack Obama managed to out-do himself by uncorking what very well may have been the most dishonest, demagogic, and bitterly partisan speech of his presidency." The responses from the elected Republicans, while not QUITE as vitriolic, were similarly worded and focused. Bottom line: Their reaction seemed to be: How dare the president campaign against us!!!! And as we pointed out yesterday, Obama isn’t necessarily running against Mitt Romney; he’s running against the Republican Party brand -- and making sure that Romney owns that brand. In fact, Romney’s biggest challenge over the next two or three months will be for him to differentiate himself from the brand. There’s been a lot of focus of late on how damaged Romney has become in this process (his high negatives with indies, etc). But we’ve noticed a larger trend: The brand of the GOP is what’s been damaged; Romney may simply be collateral damage. And this is why he has to figure out a way to either improve the GOP’s brand or differentiate himself. Which can he achieve?

*** Romney’s chance to respond: Speaking of Obama’s speech yesterday, Romney today gets to deliver an address at the very same venue -- before newspaper editors in DC -- at 11:45 am ET. And while Romney hit the president during his victory speech last night (“Under this president's watch, more Americans have lost their jobs than during any other period since the Depression”), many political observers will be closely watching to see how he responds to Obama’s remarks from yesterday, as well as how responds to the three questions he’ll get from the audience. Remember, the day after primary wins haven’t always been kind to Romney and his campaign, and this speech before America’s newspaper editors has taken on more importance because of how the president chose to use the venue yesterday… 

*** Yesterday’s two extraordinary speeches: Yet as we begin turning to the general election, yesterday was a pretty remarkable day. We saw Obama lay out his party’s indictment of the GOP and its governing philosophy: “Ronald Reagan, who, as I recall, is not accused of being a tax-and-spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficit started to get out of control, that for him to make a deal he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases. Did it multiple times. He could not get through a Republican primary today.” And also yesterday, we saw Romney lay out his indictment of Obama and the Democrats: “In Barack Obama’s government-centered society, government spending will always increase because…there’s no reason to stop it. There’s always someone who is entitled to something more, and who will vote for anyone who will give them something more.” So yesterday was a day that people will be able to look back on and see what the two distinct economic visions are for the country.

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: After his speech in DC today, Romney campaigns in Pennsylvania… Santorum also is in the Keystone State, hitting Carnegie, Holidaysburg, and Mechanicsburg… Gingrich is in North Carolina… And Paul remains out in California.

*** Scott Brown embraces Obama: It’s not every day you see this kind of press release from a Republican senator: “Two major pieces of legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) will be signed into law by President Obama at White House ceremonies this week. As the first to introduce both the STOCK Act and crowdfunding legislation in the Senate, Senator Brown was invited and will attend both signing ceremonies. ‘I’m honored to receive these invitations from President Obama and I look forward to standing next to him as he signs these bills into law.’” So we’ve seen likely Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren star in Obama’s campaign documentary. And now Brown is shouting from the mountain top that he’ll be standing next to Obama at signing ceremonies this week. Brown has two major hurdles to overcome if he’s going to win a full term: One, he’s trying to win as a Republican in a blue state during a presidential year. And two, how does he avoid getting defined by Romney? Well, we see what Brown is TRYING to do, have photo-ops with Romney’s opponent. Here’s betting we see Brown use his appearances at these signing ceremonies in TV ads while trying like mad to avoid appearances with Romney. 

Countdown to the CT, DE, NY, PA, and RI primaries: 20 days
Countdown to Election Day: 216 days

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